Game Worn: Joseph Sherman Captures Culture in The Jordan Zoom 92
The photographer and author talks about capturing truth through art and leading the way for others.
Words: Drew Ruiz
Photography: Michael Uzowuru
“Game Worn” explores the breadth, nuance and stories behind the modern entrepreneurial mindset, as well as the sneakers that support subjects in their pursuit of greatness.
Joseph Sherman’s fascination with capturing moments began nearly a decade ago. After graduating from college, the Chicago-born creative relocated to the East Coast in 2012 to kickstart his career. For the journey, a road trip to New Jersey, Joseph purchased his first camera and photographed cities he was passing through, landscapes, people, sneakers and basketball.
Growing up in the Midwest, Joseph’s first love was hoops. As he dove deeper into photography, he discovered a passion for documenting basketball culture that eventually became a full-time career.
Joseph continued to expand his repertoire by telling stories through his art, particularly as he established himself in a new city. He began capturing his new surroundings in New York City through intimate portraits and action shots. These images crystalize the intricacies of the game’s fast pace, which mirror the city’s hustle and bustle at its most famous blacktops.
In 2019, Joseph relocated once again, taking his talents to the West Coast after accepting a social media and in-house photographer position with the Los Angeles Lakers. In his current role, he assists in the creation and curation of original content and documents all facets of the purple and gold.
Last spring, the 30-year-old creative and author released A Basketball Book About Black People, a self-published, visual celebration of the Black community using the game of basketball as his canvas. Later this year, Joseph is set to release another collection of work, which is in its early stages of production.
We talked to Joseph about balancing his time and energy, paving the way for other Black creatives and the blending of old and new on the Jordan Zoom 92.
How did your journey with photography begin?
My journey has been unorthodox and unique. I taught myself how to use a camera with no formal education. I bought my first camera in 2012 for a few hundred dollars. I was moving from Illinois to New Jersey to start working after graduating from college, and I wanted to take photos of my trip. I bought the camera to document the trip, of course, but also to send the photos to my mother and let her know that her boy was safe.
Once I touched down in New Jersey, I wasn’t met with family or friends, so I had to create an entirely new community. Part of that began with me getting close with my camera — taking photos of anything that I saw or that I came across, including everything from landscapes to candid street stuff. I really gravitated towards the art of photography, which led me to eventually combine my passions, basketball and art.
How would you describe your creative process?
It begins with a combination of my references, idols and instincts. It’s imperative to look at the work of my favorite artists, past and present, for inspiration — photographers like Carrie Mae Weems, Chi Modu, Deana Lawson, Roy DeCarava and Gordon Parks. I read their stories, as well, in order to get to know them as people, who they were behind the camera. From there, I really just operate from my intuition and instincts.
As far as shooting goes, I always focus on the essence of the subject or environment that I am documenting. I ensure that what I capture and document communicates the pure essence and truth of that moment.
What does being a Black creative mean to you?
The first thing that comes to mind is duty. And by duty, I mean the responsibility I have, as a Black man, to uplift and empower my community and to honor my family, my lineage and the people who came before me — who fought for my liberation.
I have certain responsibilities and duties as a Black man that are heavy, especially in this country. Being an artist, I have a duty to point out the contradictions in society, to tell the truth with my photos, to document important moments and to push the level of consciousness in my community.
That’s how I operate, from a place of recognizing my privilege and using it in a positive, healthy way. My toolbox is photography and art. It’s my duty to use these tools, push my people forward and be an inspiration to Black youth.
A photograph from Joseph Sherman’s book, A Basketball Book About Black People
Speaking of Black youth, in what ways do you feel you’re paving the way or being a voice for those who admire your art?
I believe in “well done” versus “well said.” I do my best to continue pushing myself and not be complacent in any realm of my life. I always try to push myself.
For Black people, it’s hard to get in the door of corporate America and various industries. Once you do get in the door, it’s also hard to maneuver into positions of power, opportunity and resources. It is particularly difficult to create safe environments where you can be who you truly are.
As I continue to progress throughout my career, I try to lead by example, in order to show Black youth that we can get the jobs we thought were impossible to get, and that there are alternative ways to make it out of our circumstances. I strive to be a new blueprint for Black youth in that regard.
There’s a timelessness and finality to film photography. How are you looking at capturing those moments before the shutter clicks?
I just look for truth and emotion. Particularly with basketball, there are so many moments that we don’t notice until someone can capture it and freeze it. Growing up playing basketball, I know that it’s an extremely vulnerable sport. A lot of the moves you’re trying for the first time, every time you shoot the ball. Although you’ve practiced, you don’t know if that move is going to work, or if that shot is going in. It’s a very vulnerable game.
These vulnerable moments are beautiful to capture because that’s a feeling that we experience, even off the court. When I think about the second before the shutter goes off, I just think about capturing the truth at that moment.
“When I think about the second before the shutter goes off, I just think about capturing the truth at that moment.”
Speaking of those moments, there are different kinds — the high pressure and game-defining ones, in particular. What’s going through your mind trying to capture the right shot during key moments?
The number one thing going through my mind is trusting the amount of hours that I’ve put into the craft, the hours I’ve put into taking photos, my timing and anticipation. They call it muscle memory in basketball. It’s the same thing, knowing certain guys’ moves, the ebbs and flows of the game and trusting that my timing will be just right in those moments.
On a normal day, you’re on the move to different places, from home to the office, to the studio and to arenas. How do you balance all of that?
For me, balance is an art form. You have to be creative with your time. Of course, It begins with prioritizing what’s most important first. From there, I do my best to understand what and where I need to allocate my time and energy. I also try to remind myself to not be so rigid.
It’s important to be adaptable and flexible day-to-day, especially when you’re constantly creating. Another very important aspect of balance is ensuring that I am dedicating time in my days and weeks to rest and recalibrate — making time for myself and not working non-stop. This is imperative for my mind and body. Life is extremely cyclical, and it’s important for us to constantly reassess our processes to make sure they are conducive to true balance.
A photograph from Joseph Sherman’s book, A Basketball Book About Black People
It’s also important to make sure that you’re prioritizing your mental and physical health during these times. What are some ways you do that?
It starts with mentality. The mind controls the body. My thing during all of this, and in regards to my mental health, is focusing more on input versus output — focusing on the things I’m digesting from books to art, content, food and conversations. In this age of information and social media, it’s extremely hard, but it’s imperative.
I got this from my close friend, Michael Uzowuru, but the idea of having a healthy response to unhealthy things. I’ve been really focusing on that, as well, and it’s helped with my mental wellness. We see a lot of things every day, whether it be the continued murders of Black people or the pandemic and its effect on our world. Seeing all of this on our phones or our computers can cause or reinforce trauma. I’m just doing my best to have a healthy response to seeing or interacting with unhealthy things.
You’re a big sneakerhead, evident by all the Air Jordan Is in your apartment. How does your mood differ based on the day’s schedule, and how does that play a role in your sneaker choices?
It’s all feeling. Just like how each colorway has a different story and inspiration. How you wake up one day versus how you wake up on another day can be completely different. I want my exterior to match how I’m feeling.
I dress bottom up. I pick out my shoes before I pick my clothes. The whole outfit is really based on the shoe. There are also times when I’ll wear one shoe for two weeks straight, because that’s just how I’m feeling. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve worn my Union AJ1s the most during the last year.
The idea of “game worn” often refers to athletes, but are there sneakers you’ve worn during significant moments that stand out to you? Do you hold them in a special regard now?
The first game that the Lakers played after Kobe’s death, I wore his first signature sneakers with Nike. I felt that I had to honor the opportunity and privilege I had to be photographing the Lakers, especially on that day. I had to do what I felt was the most authentic, and that was letting my shoes speak.
For this editorial, you’re wearing a new Jordan Brand silhouette that represents the history and depth we’ve been talking about. What was your first impression of the Jordan Zoom 92, a shoe that combines aspects of the Air Jordan VII, Nike Air Max 180 and Nike Air Force V?
I first noticed the materials and how they coexist on the shoe so seamlessly. There’s intentional cohesion with the different designs and textures. I put the shoes on and immediately felt the comfort, too.
What makes the Jordan Zoom 92 a good day-to-day shoe for you?
I can wear it in so many different spaces. If I want to get out of the house, get some fresh air or get some shots up, I can have these on. If I’m just riding a bike throughout the neighborhood, I can have these on. These have versatility. It’s a shoe that works for everyday life.
We’re in the middle of difficult and unconventional times. How have you learned to adjust your on-the-go schedule to work from home and stay creative?
It starts with looking inward. Radical self-reflection I would say. I haven’t necessarily taken a lot of photos recently, but I have been going through my archives and reflecting on my old work. I’m learning from those images. Back in 2012, those images were random and a byproduct of me just trying to figure out how to use my camera. Fast-forward to 2020, and some of those photos serve an exact purpose today, which inspires my current creative ideas.
The Jordan Zoom 92 is now available on Nike.com and at select retailers. Additional colorways will be released throughout the Fall 2020 season.